Sunday, September 9, 2007

Informal Settlements - September 3, 2007

(1) Songs is our guide. A large African man with a great laugh… Reams of knowledge and the wisdom that seems years beyond his age. Without him, this trip would be meaningless. Thank you, Songs!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(2) Informal settlements…squatters’ land. Lean-to’s, shacks, shanties, made of scrap metals and salvaged woods. Tarred paper roofs held down with old tires. One door and no windows. A communal water well and a common area for washing clothes. Rows of porta-potties that are blocks long. Stray dogs everywhere. Dust, dirt, litter. No electricity. Large campfires for cooking. A dozen cattle being herded down the dirt road on which we are driving. Where do they graze? Even Songs doesn’t know the answer to that. Tables, set up on corners, that sell “smilies”… sheep heads that are roasted and considered a delicacy. I suggest we get one, but SAJ wisely talks me out of it. People sitting and staring. Children moving dirt with their toes as if it is a game. Clothes and bedding hanging on fences that separate these settlements from more affluent townships. A dirt road that separates one settlement from a township area nicknamed “Beverly Hills.” Beverly Hills is a neighborhood in Langa consisting of one – to two-room bungalows. And believe me…compared to the settlement, the name is fitting. Row upon row of these shanties connected by a common wall, because that means one less wall to build. Most times, connected in the back, too, because that means two less walls to build. These settlements are found throughout Cape Town. They have no names. Children are born here.

(3) And yet people smile and wave.

(4) We re-visit the black township of Langa and home to Songs. He takes us to meet Nkululeko, a musician friend of his. Nkululeko is a percussionist and marimba player and this morning he is terribly hungover. Man, artists are the same everywhere.

(5) Nkululeko’s favorite bar is right next door to his house. Cool.

(6) There is a tour bus on Nkululeko’s street. Tourists having lunch at a restaurant there.

(7) Nkululeko plays some of his latest music for us. It is a DVD recorded in Japan. He shows me a picture of his Japanese girlfriend. I show him a picture of my Japanese wife.

(8) Lots of laughs and jokes at each other’s expense. It’s like hanging with Judd and Rene.

(9) Back on the road. The mass transportation system here seems to be all privately owned. Vans and buses pick up people at collection spots in townships and drive them to Cape Town proper or its suburbs.

(10) All public school students wear uniforms. As a child of the 60’s, surprisingly, I like that they do.

(11) I just saw a dog scratching his back on the front bumper of a Volks Wagon.

(12) Langa has a population of little over 170,000. It is the smallest and oldest of all black townships in Cape Town. Songs seems to know every one of those 170,000 people. Waves, yells, honking horns. We are in the capable hands of a rock star.

(13) Lunch at Tiger’s…A long connected 3-room heaven! You buy your meat (lamb, beef, pork, chickens, sausages, and variety types) in the first room, a butcher shop. You then season it with assorted spices. Songs did this for us. You then give this platter of meat to the cook in the second room. And while he is grilling, you proceed to the 3rd room and come to the lounge and an outdoor patio. The patio is a concrete slab facing the street with cars parked about 6 ft away. Order a few beers and wait for the food. Watch Songs greet everyone and introduce us to them. Everyone knows everyone. All are kind and welcoming. A school bell goes off across the street. Then the food comes on a large tin tray with one knife. It is placed on a chair between us, and it’s every man for himself. Grabbing, pulling, tearing the meat apart and tasting the best food I think we had in Cape Town.

(14) And not one vegetable in sight. Not even a lamb-flavored potato chip.

(15) Recording and filming everyone and everything we can. I hope these machines work.

(16) More black townships. Alive with people and activities. Interactive…not just people rushing home to work, to home. Laughter. The joy of a common struggle?

(17) Back at the hotel, and the woman at the front desk seems genuinely shocked that we spent a day in Langa. Crime, gangs, drugs, etc. She is “coloured.”

(18) Terrible television in South Africa. 5 stations and 3 of them show soccer. The other two, old reruns of American soap operas.

(19) Consciously observing is exhausting. Night, night.


Visual tour of the township:

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